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Castro's exit may spur U.S. policy rethink

US-Cuba relations are unlikely to thaw anytime soon, but change may be only a matter of time.

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Incoming US chief executives always review important foreign-policy positions, notes Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. That might provide Washington an opportunity to take the initiative in regard with dealing with Havana instead of reacting to Castro's moves as it has in the past, he says.

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"Why don't we say, 'We're putting on the table a set of conditions for the US to engage with Cuba in the future'?" asks Mr. Gomez.

The list of conditions might include a request that Raul Castro resign from leadership of the Cuban Army if he assumes the presidency, release of political prisoners, and greater freedom of the press.

Ms. French says the US can increase its influence in Cuba without ending the economic embargo. Washington might call for a dialogue on mutual security issues, for instance, including security around the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, cooperation against drug running, and in dealing with the flow of illegal immigrants.

The US could also loosen restrictions on travel, allowing Cuban-Americans more frequent visits to their native land, and on remittances to Cuba.

The US could also offer to remove Cuba from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, which even North Korea has hopes of getting off of if it meets promises on its nuclear program. "Cuba doesn't have a bomb to give up," French points out.

None of these moves would require alteration of the basic Helms-Burton law, or even Congressional approval, she says.

There may be many Cuban officials who want to open their country up, said Rep. Jim McGovern (D) of Massachusetts, at a recent Council on Foreign Relations seminar on the future of US-Cuban relations. But Mr. McGovern, who has traveled to Cuba a number of times on official visits, said the US should not discount the worries of these transitional figures that change is something that, once started, they might not be able to control.

That might even extend to the prospect of increased tourism. "I think the two words in the English language the hard-liners in Cuba fear most are 'spring break'," said McGovern.